Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Horses Who Made Me: A Medley

This week I'm going to touch briefly on several different horses who stand out in my past. These are horses who came along after Yogi and before the horse I'll cover in next week's post.

I was so fortunate after my time at Teri's that I had so many contacts with horse folks in the area. Everyone had horses that needed to be ridden, but no one had time to do it! I bopped hither and thither on many different horses through the years. A ride at a time, I developed myself before really settling to help train and develop any one horse.

When you're presented with so many mounts, you learn quickly that they're not all the same. You learn what you like, what you don't like, and what you'd like to learn more about. I rode all different breeds, all different sizes, all different disciplines of horses.

I took away many lessons from each of the horses I rode; the biggest lesson of all? Adaptability. I had to learn to adapt to ride whatever I was presented with.

And thus, without further ado, the myriad of lessons I learned from a medley of different horses.

: : : : :

The photo of Misty and I is a wonderful definition of my short time riding this horse. I rode her toward the tail-end of my time at Teri's. A spicy little Appaloosa mare, she really had get up and go.

Her turning radius was impressive; her zero to sixty take-off was outrageous. I thought I loved speed, but this little lady really gave me appreciation for speed and agility. She was a firecracker. So very much like Q is, but without the spookiness.

I'll never forget the fun show I spent riding Misty - taking off from a standstill to a gallop in no time at all to do the clover and straight barrels. That final run at the end of both courses to the gate was epic. I never knew if we'd stop, but we always did. Such a fun little lady horse.

Luke and his owner
Luke was a little Arabian gelding that one of my best friend's owned. I spent a lot of time around him through my middle school days. He was quite tolerant of our early teenage pursuits.

Of all the ridiculous things I did while riding Luke, the lesson he taught me above all others was to not put your trust in a "sure" thing.

While tolerant on the trail, Luke wasn't *perfect*. I can remember hanging out at the barn for a party one evening with my cohorts from school and feeling the need to ride. I really couldn't be around horses and *not* ride. I loved it so much. And, let's be honest, I kind of wanted to show off to my friends a little!

So there I was, riding Luke around part of the field bareback having a jolly good time, when suddenly Luke decided it was enough. He ejected me like no horse had ever ejected me to that point. I sailed over his head and hit the ground in a roll to protect myself from further injury.

Luke stopped once I hit the ground. The look he gave me said simply enough, "We are done. No more."

I remounted for the sake of getting back on the horse after a fall, rode him to the fence, slipped off, removed the bridle, and went on about my evening.

Apache and her owner a couple summers ago
Apache was my other best friend's horse. An opinionated POA mare with a lot of get-up-and-go onthe trail.

Apache was the first horse - really the first mare - who taught me that horses really do *think* and *consider* things on the trail. She was so looky about everything. If you talked her through it and let her study things for a moment, she'd be fine though. You could almost hear the cogs and gears whirring as she worked through "friend or foe", "threat or non-threat" in her head.

I hated this aspect of her personality for the longest time, but once I realized it for what it was, I really loved it. She was so intelligent; things were only an "issue" to her for one or two times before she'd categorized them away into "non-issue". Her owner recognized this about her from the get-go - the reason they got along and still get along so well! I know other mutual friends of ours who still cannot stand this behavior though. They refuse to ride Apache because of it. Me? Well, I've now got a mare with opinions of her own, I think I've partly got Apache to thank for that!

Sip, short for Sipapu, was an Appaloosa gelding who boarded where Luke and Apache were for
several months while his owner was in Alaska.

Sip was my personal mount for nearly the whole time he was there. My two friends could ride their own horses - Luke and Apache - and I rode Sip.

Sip was the first horse I had a spark with. I got along with and communicated with him on an entirely other level. I could merely *think* about what I wanted to do as far as navigation down the trail and he would respond. Trot. He'd trot. Canter. He'd canter. A little to the left. He'd avoid the branch that was otherwise going to be an obstacle for my face.

The connection I had with Sip was magical. And too short. His owner moved him home after he returned from Alaska. Sadly, Sip died that winter from poisoning from eating too many dried maple leaves. =(

Brandy was one of the first horses I began riding when I started mucking/managing a boarding barn closer to my home. She was the BO's pride and joy. She'd had her since birth.

Brandy was in her 20s when I met her. You'd never have guessed it though! I've yet to meet a horse with pep in her step like this mare had. She LOVED to run. Sonya used to run barrels on Brandy.

Brandy - and Sonya - allowed me to enjoy the thrill of barrels once. It was part thrill part terror.

Barrels on Brandy

This little Welsh section B gelding competed nationally at some big jumping competition apparently. He's supposedly very well bred, as well.

His leasor at the time had asked me to ride him some to reset him for her kids. I was long of leg, but
slight of frame; my weight was near the limit for him, but not too much.

Riding Ferdie
I rode him around their property a day or two, gave her kids some lessons, and that was that. I didn't think I'd see him again.

Later in the summer at one of the 4-H shows I stumbled upon another opportunity to ride him. The 4-H show had a class in the afternoon where parents or mentors would ride their kids horses. It was a blast for everyone involved. The leasor asked me if I'd ride Ferdie. I happily agreed.

Everyone got a hoot out of me riding this little pony. They laughed and laughed and said I looked like a frog sittin' on a lily pad with my long legs. He was such a blast though!

Afterward, his leasor asked if I'd take him into the back field and let him gallop. She said she felt he really missed it since he'd been dealing with kids for so many months. Gallop? In a field? Uh, DUH. YES!

Ha. Haha. Never underestimate the small ones. Nope. Never. Ferdie took off at a gallop, completely thrilled with himself. And what do horses and ponies do when they're completely thrilled with themselves at high speed?


Oh, did he buck!

I distinctly remember flying off around buck number 7. What a little snot!

So much fun though. So much fun. Wouldn't change it for the world. Gave me a lot more respect for ponies, too!

Monday, February 24, 2014

Chaos Commences

My plan of a minimum of 10 workout sessions for each horse for February is precariously close to not happening after being on such a great streak of doing *all the things*. 

Currently, I'm smack in the middle of a many day work streak between both of my jobs. I'm to the point where the fun of working two jobs has ceased and the chaos of trying to keep up with both has commenced. I'm not enjoying it as I was. I'm far from miserable, but I'm also not very close to the level of enjoyment I was experiencing prior. Working for nearly 14 days in a row without a day off isn't pleasant. The requirement to wake up prior to dawn every day has also lost its luster. My saving grace currently is that the days have grown in length and I'm not ending as many of my days in the dark as I had been!

This past weekend was a big one. I worked 36 hours on the mountain in 3 days. One of those days was spent helping the Wounded Warriors program. Disabled veterans ski our mountain and we pair up one-on-one with them for the day to teach, assist, and make sure they have a blast. Its very rewarding.

The remaining two days largely consisted of candidate testing - extensive testing of our candidates to see if they would or wouldn't "make" the patrol for next year. These folks have been hard at work learning, training, and practicing for 6 months now. This weekend was their "make it or break it" weekend. Many current patrollers came together to evaluate and help with the testing. Its a stressful environment for all involved.

The weekend was highlighted with great success from nearly all of the candidates. Our patrol has a lot of positive additions to it for the next season! We're excited to welcome new folks to our family.

Sleds prepped to take some of the Wounded Warriors down the mountain.
Most of these folks had never skied before and some had never seen snow.
We brought them all to the top for a group photo and those too nervous to ski down
were taken in toboggans. The experience of riding in one of these with patrollers
guiding them is really a blast and quite a unique experience. There were smiles all around.

Our patrol building illuminated in the night.

Mike and I gooning after dinner on evening.

The pitch of this slope is poorly represented in this photo.
Bamboo course set up as a part of the ski skills test on Sunday.

Assessing candidates ski skills. The pitch is better represented here!

Crud run assessment of ski skills.
Snow conditions were AWFUL.
The goal of this part of the test was to survive haha.

Assessing skills with sleds.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch....
"Ski Patrol training in progress"
Gotta work hard to keep those chairs down; they'll fly away otherwise. ;-)

Tiernan and I with our director.

Tiernan after she found out she passed.
She moved to WV last summer and had never skied before this season.
I invited her to join patrol last summer and train and she accepted;
the patrol and various instructors at many levels taught her to ski in 2 months.
Her skills went from zero to the level of a basic ski patroller.
You do NOT have to be a skier to join patrol, you can learn.
IF anyone in the DC-area would like to join ski patrol next year, CONTACT ME. =)

Tiernan wiped out after climbing the mountain on her skis.
A ritual that must be completed to join. ;-)

Haze (with cigarette) finishing the climb.
Mike had already completed the climb and would board down to finish
the hike with each person who was nearing completion.

I spent little time thinking of anything more than the mountain, patrol, and the goings-on in that realm. I currently haven't seen my horses in, oh, 4 days? No. Wait, 6. Six days.

We've fortunately been graced with nice weather throughout those six days, so my absence has likely not been missed by them! I suspect when I visit tonight I will have quite the muddy messes to clean up prior to blanketing them in preparation for more cold, wet weather that is preceding another extreme cold snap into the single digits.

I am going to strive to make it out 4 days this week to see them and work with them. Sunday is finally my day off and trail riding will inevitably happen. =) I cannot wait to sleep in and spend time with Mike and the horses Sunday.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Winter Lately: A photo journal

Midway through the big storm last week

Look how high the snow was compared to the gate and fence!

Nearly knee deep at noon!

My barn abode coated in snow

I followed the plow out. Only non-plow on the road!

The main road...not plowed. Cute. Real cute.

Should be mountains in the distance. Instead...whiteout.

XC skiing with my momma

Mom and Kenai

SO much snow on the mountain!

Grooming out the fluff =(

Tree skiing with Sherm

Find the Sherman!

Developing bumps on Gravity <3

Mike and I posing at the top of Dark Side of the Moon

Me squeezing through some trees in the woods

Skiing away!

Waiting on Mike.

Snow in Kenai's fluff

An embarrassed husky dog

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Knee Deep Snow Rides

Mike and I have been getting the horses out quite a bit in the most recent dump of snow. We've had a blast, too!

The evening of the 12th, we took them on a very impromptu night ride. It was 7p or so when we headed out to see them. I wanted to make sure they were standing, that there were no rips in blankets, and that they were cozy and comfortable beneath the blankets. Additionally, I wanted to give them a nice warm mash.

The addition of mashes each visit is really increasing Q's interest in me. Griffin has always neighed from the field upon my arrival, used to come to a whistle, still walks to meet me if not wait for me at the gate. Q? I have to walk every last step to reach her. Often she won't look up at me until last minute. And frequently she walks lazily away from me for about a dozen strides, enough to make a point that she's not thrilled about the prospect of coming in.

However, with mashes introduced to the routine the following is now occurring: My car pulls in and Q quits paying attention to whatever she is doing to follow my approach. She stares at me until I get out. Occasionally she nickers or neighs from the field when I get out of the car and call to her. She continues to watch my every move; even when I've ducked in and out of the barn a few times she's still watching. Additionally, about 45% of the time she's walking to the gate to meet me. 65% of the time she's approaching me as I approach her in the field. Steps in the right direction! Mashes have thawed her cold heart just a little bit it seems.

After their mashes Thursday night, I threw reins on their halter-bridles and hopped on Griffin atop his blanket. Mike gave me a slightly confused look before doing the same with Q. He'd never headed out bareback/blanket-back before. And this impromtu ride wasn't what he was expecting - but he was game!

We tooled around in the back field in the dark in the snow for awhile. It was very light and fluffy. We rode for about 20 minutes adding spurts of canter and gallop to our walking and trotting shenanigans. Such a blast!

: : : :

The next night, the 13th, we headed out for a purposeful night ride. We rode in the back field again, saddled this time with cooler sheets attached ghetto-like under the saddles. (I don't have quarter sheets for riding; the only reason I rode with the ghetto sheets this night was because it was snowing and I didn't want them to get wet before I put blankets back on them for the night.)

We frolicked for 35 minutes this night. The snow was even deeper than the previous day! Up to their knees and hocks easily.

Deep snow! You can see how high from where it hit on my boots!
Also, Mike felt Q's ears were cold so he put his gloves on them. HILARIOUS and embarrassing for her. She thrust her head
into his arms shortly after I snapped that photo.

We trotted and cantered and played around for awhile. Griffin would lead, then Q would lead, then Griffin would get jealous and take the lead again!

The snow falling while we rode made for quite the experience! The world was so quiet as a result. All the horses' footfalls were muffled. When Mike and I weren't talking there was silence only interrupted by the swishing of the horses movement through the snow. What fun!

We'd pondered taking an actual trail ride, but with the gusting wind knocking *ghosts* snow from the trees that spooked the horses, we opted to stay in the field and play it safe.

: : : :

And finally, on the 18th, my birthday, we headed out for an afternoon of riding in the snow.

I'm really loving the roached mane.
I'd originally planned a big 10 mile + ride through the woods that we'd complete over 3 hours or so, but I hadn't calculated in the snow! The temperatures had risen into the lower 50s for the second sunny day in a row, but the snow was still heavy on the ground.

The 20" of fluff had compacted into a dense 16"-18" of packed powder. Heavy stuff. Not fun to ski in or walk in really!

Mike and I cleared some of the trail in the beginning of the ride, or rather, Mike cleared a few branches as I watched. Ha.

Mike and Q are really developing an understanding. She's really taking to him and he to her. While he was clearing limbs and making a racket of things, she watched idly, unconcerned.  While holding the reins in his teeth wasn't the greatest or safest idea, he did it. Q just stood quietly. Small branches would drop on her or brush against her as he cleared them, she didn't move a muscle! She'd just flick her ears hither and thither, watching him with quiet aplomb. Her expression was one of complete calm and trust. Not the most common of expressions for her, but one that is becoming more and more frequent of late.

Unflattering angle for Q, but look at her calm while Mike cuts the limb!
The last branch he sawed was the most amusing and impressive as far as demonstrating the trust Q has in him after such a short time.

He was holding the branch in such a way to prevent it from falling on her when it snapped. He knew that by doing this he would also hit the ground as a result, but the fall was short, the snow was deep, and he was more concerned with not startling Q-bee.

When the branch gave way under the saw, Mike and the branch hit the ground with a thud and a rustle beside Q. She flinched, visibly, but she didn't move a foot. She looked at Mike with surprise and a look that said, "What the hell happened? How did you get down THERE?" Such a good girl.

With clearing completed for the time being, we set out without a plan other than some quality time with the horses.

We stuck to the haul road since it wasn't as steep as the other trail options. Navigating the snow was enough of a workout without added hills!

Griffin figured out real quick that snow makes the going rough. He wasn't breathing overly hard, but he wasn't thrilled with his predicament either!

I told Mike to keep Q moving - she is in shape and could really use the work out - and Griffin and I would catch up eventually.

Towards the tail end of the haul road, Mike got to experience the infamous teleporting spook that Q does.

They'd been cantering along at a stately little pace when Q decided a particular branch had some monster potential. She slammed on the breaks and did a fast pirouette (all of this in one fluid motion BRAKES-SPIN!) before making an attempt to bolt toward Griffin and I - away from the "monster". Mike laughed and laughed and laughed at her.

I was happy he found it so funny - and even happier that I hadn't had to ride that spook! I HATE those spooks!

Mike continued to giggle at Q as Griffin found his second gear and motored on ahead.

We kept going past the main haul road and headed for the hill that would ascend into the mature forest where trails are clearer.

Before the hill began there were some puddles though. The first, spring fed, wasn't frozen over. The second was frozen. I stopped to let Griffin drink from the spring-fed puddle. He drank several gulps before settling to play in the water, pawing the water to a muddy mess that he flung around us. He's always loved playing in the water. Always. And while I'm aware some horses will lie down in the water after doing this, he's never done it before. Until this day!

Down he went. A squeal escaped me before I started snapping at him, "NO. NO NO NONONONONO. Get UP. Get UP GETUPGETUPGETUPPPP!" And then I stepped off to avoid further potential harm. I hauled him up, dripping mud.

Mike was losing it laughing at us.

Laughing at this point. What else could I do?
A better view of the puddle.

I remounted and we continued our ride.

I'd originally planned to turn around once we'd peaked the main mountain climb, but, not thinking it would lead to much, decided to explore a couple trails at one of the bigger intersections. I let Mike pick which of three options we'd take and we headed down that trail.

We ended up exploring A LOT! And the trails were all in really great shape from a horseback riding standpoint. We were able to find even more trails that linked up along the way. More hills to climb and sprint, especially! I was really excited.

Look how deep the snow was!
We climbed one really steep hill to peak a mountain I'd not climbed before. Griffin was a champ! He locked into a great little power walk and motored up it, passing an obstinate Q who was making attempts to not take another step in an upward direction.

The view from the top was shrouded  by trees, but beautiful nonetheless. We gave the horses a bit of a break for a bit up there before descending again.

Griffin motored back down the steep without issue. However, upon reaching the flat area below he promptly fell on his face. Sigh. Tired baby was tired. At this point we'd gone 4 miles. Nothing crazy. The snow made for more work though!!

We tried, briefly, to link up the new trails to old, but I was more concerned about Griffin's fatigue (and our dinner reservations later on) to be greatly motivated to power through and link up the trails. Upon reviewing the map after the ride, we did come really close to linking them up, and I'm sure we'll make another attempt in a couple weeks when we have some time to go back out.

Eager ears headed for home.
Overall, it was a great ride. Griffin found his second wind on the way home after having a break in the way of walking downhill for nearly a mile. When we reached the haul road (Griffin leading), he powered into a great working trot for the rest of the ride home. We let Q lead the tail end of the ride through the trickier part of the woods, but beyond that Griffin led most of the way. He was a very good boy!

He's definitely a borne leader. He is so much more fun when he's in the lead and he's so much more engaged in what's going on and what his job is than when he follows. In the following position he's more focused on how tired he's becoming. His behavior is something akin to a melodramatic teenager.

I'm having a blast with him, certainly, and look forward to each new ride with him. He's getting so much stronger with each passing day!

Our ride ended up being 7.3 miles with an average speed of 3.5 mph. We were out for about 2 hours. Not a bad day of things! A great birthday ride - even if I did end up spattered in mud from my grey dork taking a dip in a puddle!